Gavel falls for the last time for Frankoma Pottery; auction clears out vintage pottery factory

SAPULPA, Okla. – Tough economic times have dealt a hammer blow to a classic, Made-in-America pottery. Last week a factory closeout auction was held for Oklahoma-based, Frankoma Pottery. According to Colonel Robert Hawks, of Robert Hawks Auction Co., there were 382 registered bidders at the live onsite auction. A total of 472 lots were offered at the auction, including pottery, fixtures, and equipment.

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“Most people in attendance wanted a piece of history to go home with them,” Hawks said. “The top two types of items that sold were sets of Texas pottery, which sold at $500 to $600 a set, and Route 66 pottery that sold for $400.”

There were many unglazed items that were sold in lots for people to finish themselves. The 1,800 original moulds and the Frankoma name were not included in the sale. They are available for private sale through the Robert Hawks Auction Co.

The pottery began its existence 1933 when it was founded under the name Frank Potteries by John Frank. Raised in Chicago, Frank’s artistic abilities resulted in him being hired to come to Norman, Oklahoma, to establish the University of Oklahoma’s first Ceramic Art Department.

Frank launched the business after leaving his job as an experienced art and pottery teacher at the University of Oklahoma. Frank Potteries was born from a love of art and community. The company’s products created during the time of the Franks’ ownership were filled with heart and a desire to fill an artistic vision that art could be affordable to the masses.

In 1936, as a reflection of the owner’s appreciation of community, the company’s name was changed to Frankoma Pottery, incorporating the last three letters of its beloved home state into the name. This was to be the one of many names under which the company would operate, but it’s the one that best reflects its core inspiration.

According to John Frank’s daughter, Joniece, all of the pottery’s glaze covering was applied and fired only one time so it could be sold at a reasonable price. “The only exception being the ‘Flame’ colored pieces which needed to be fired twice,” she told Antique Trader. “The additional labor made them more expensive to create, and they were then sold at a 50 percent higher price.”

Frankoma used only two types of clay to create its pottery. The first type was Ada clay, which eventually became unusable. The company then in 1955 switched to a clay sourced from Sapulpa. “The clay used from Sapulpa was named ‘brick’ because a local brick company got its clay from the same hill.” said Frank’s daughter Donna. The Sapulpa clay eventually evolved from brick red to a more pinkish tone eventually.

Despite two fires during the course of the company’s history, the dedicated Franks rebuilt and created new designs to carry on their dream. The family ownership of the pottery continued after John Frank’s passing in 1973. His titles of the President and CEO were passed into the hands of his daughter, Joniece.

The second fire, in 1983, impacted the business to the point that it was sold in 1991, and then closed in 2004. In 2005, Det and Crystal Merryman purchased the company.

Yet another owner, Joe Ragosta, purchased the pottery in 2008. Frankoma Pottery was shuttered in 2010 and a new buyer was not found in time for a lender to order the final sale of assets.

As collectors, it is most important to pay tribute to the qualities this pottery possesses, said Linda Vann Odom, a retailer and vintage Frankoma Pottery collector for approximately 12 years. When asked about what qualities she finds appealing about Frankoma Pottery replied, “The beautiful rutile colors, the original design of the Frank family artists, and the history of Frankoma Pottery.”

Antique Trader: Some beginning collectors have a hard time telling the types of clay apart? In your opinion, what are the most recognizable differences?

Vann Odom: “There are actually three types of clay used.  The early clay is from Ada, Oklahoma. It is a light, sandy tan color. When they moved from Norman, Oklahoma to Sapulpa, Oklahoma, the clay changed to a dark, brick-red color in 1954. In 1980, the Sapulpa clay changed again to a pinkish clay. Sometimes folks have trouble identifying the Ada clay and the later Sapulpa clay.  If you moisten your fingertip and wet the clay, the Ada clay stays the same color.  The later Sapulpa clay will usually darken.”

Antique Trader: What are the Top 10 most sought-after Frankoma items?

Vann Odom
: “After analyzing data compiled in Collector’s Guide to Frankoma Pottery 1933-1990 by Gary V. Schaum, I think this a good representative list:
1. Any piece with OU Tepee Mark J.F. 1927-33 (John Frank teaching at OU)
2. ‘Coati-Mundi’ figurine circa 1935 by Joseph Taylor
3. ‘Hippo’ circa 1935 by Ray Murray
4. ‘Man with Donkey’ circa 1935 by Joseph Taylor
5. Amazon Woman “Frank Potteries” by Joseph Taylor
6. ‘Coyote Pup’ by “Frank Potteries” by Joseph Taylor
7. Any piece with “Frank Potteries, Norman, Oklahoma” stamp on bottom 1933-34
8. Sculpture pieces signed by  Joseph Taylor “Taylor”
9. Woman Head circa 1935 Norman Mark
10. Dealer sign DS-1 and DS-2"

Antique Trader
: What are the most popular ways people collect Frankoma items?

Vann Odom
: “People collect Frankoma from, antique stores, thrift stores, consignment stores, auctions,, classified ads in local newspapers, Facebook, estate sales and word of mouth from fellow collectors. They may collect only one color (ie. only flame glaze) or miniature figures. Some collect Indian Heads in every color, and are always looking for that rare color. Many folks inherited grandma’s dishes and they need to complete the set. (This is an area that I specialize in, tableware.) Some collectors are looking for the very rare Norman ‘Frank Potteries’ stamp or the ‘Pot and Puma’ incised in the Ada clay. There are as many ways to collect as one can imagine combinations!”

Antique Trader
: What online resources are available to collectors?

Vann Odom
: “Of course eBay is a huge online resource.  I have started a Facebook page for collectors since the Frankoma Family Collector’s Club has disbanded.”

Frankoma Collector Resources

  Frankoma Pottery sources:

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